Is This Scratching Abnormal?

Hunter likes to scratch and lick a few minutes as part of her morning routine.
Hunter likes to scratch and lick a few minutes as part of her morning routine.

“Dr. Randolph, Hunter has been scratching a lot lately.”

This is a common comment, especially here in the southeastern US, where grass, trees, flowers, fleas and mosquitos all grow in abundance thanks to a healthy combination of heat, humidity and an annual 270 days of summer.

My standard list of questions in response to this comment are:

  • How much is a lot? In other words, how often does the pet scratch and how long does each episode last?
  • Does he scratch more in one area than another? If so, what areas are affected?

The next two questions are ones I ask myself at the end of the examination:

  • Is there any net hair loss? In other words, are there areas where hair is missing, being scratched out faster than new hair can grow back in?
  • Second, are there lesions in the skin from scratching?
  • Third, does the pet wake you up during the night scratching?

In Hunter’s case the scratching was limited to the first ten minutes of the day. There was no more scratching all day long. This is probably an idiosyncracy of Hunter’s, perhaps a way of straightening out her hair after sleeping on it overnight. Or, maybe the rug she sleeps on is prickly. Not enough to wake her up, but enough to make her want to alleviate a little itchiness first thing in the morning.

Question Two’s answer was “no,” she mostly licks herself all over. Again, this fits a profile of simple self-grooming.

The questions for myself were interesting in her case because just before Hunter’s owner asked the question I commented on what a beautiful haircoat she has, especially for a Beagle. So, no, there was no net hair loss, no lesions and she didn’t scratch at night.

Generally speaking, if the answer is “no” to all of the above questions, the likelihood that the scratching is pathologic is low.

I like to give pet owners an assignment when they ask this question. One day, when you have the time, put a piece of scratch paper (pun intended) in your pocket and make a mark on it every time you scratch your head, arm, ear, any body part. You will be amazed at how much scratching people do.

So, don’t be surprised that your pets, who are far less fastidious than you and far closer to the ground and carpets, scratch at least that often.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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  1. Excellent article! I tried to see how often I scratched, poked, itched, and fussed with myself in an hour, and was totally shocked. Now, I’m leaving my poor dog alone instead of investigating each time he scratches– your article has made him very, very happy!

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